Giving Thanks for the Essence of Entrepreneurship

Recently, I spent time in Zurich, Munich and Milan meeting with MIT alumni, in the hopes of gaining philanthropic support for the programs run by the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship. As I talked with our alumni in these cities, it made me think of the Entrepreneurial Philanthropy practice put forward by lifelong entrepreneur and philanthropist, Naveen Jain. His promise is that philanthropy is at its best when it is founded on entrepreneurial zest and agility.

Naveen Jain states in a Huffington Post article, “True philanthropy requires a disruptive mindset, innovative thinking, and philosophy driven by entrepreneurial insights and creative opportunities. To disrupt the status quo, drive philanthropy at tremendous scale, and develop long-term economic vitality through giving, we must apply the same models for success in our philanthropic endeavors as we do in business.” I could not agree more.

MIT students are fortunate because they are encouraged to work on problems, projects, and ventures that will positively impact the world. During their journey, they are provided support through tailored classes, mentorship, access to Makerspaces, extracurricular programming, and competitions that offer opportunities for the application of learning and assessments. MIT alumni play a significant role in student support whether it is through mentoring, episodic coaching, programmatic support, introductions, or financial support.

Martin trust centerThe Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship continuously finds new ways to encourage, advise, and champion aspiring entrepreneurs as they take new ventures from idea to reality. The Center’s goals are high, as are its needs; it provides the most innovative opportunities for learning and expands MIT’s global entrepreneurship ecosystem, but it depends on the support of philanthropic partners.

However, as I visited these cities, I had to ask myself – how do you raise funds to sustain entrepreneurship programs in a global environment that does not embrace it as a serious area of study, or in cultures where education is not necessarily the place you would direct your philanthropic funds, or where risk is not rewarded? Although entrepreneurship is part of our culture of innovation here in the States, it is viewed through a different lens in different cultures, as I learned in the Nordics earlier this year.

MIT alums think broadly. The people with whom I spoke on this trip are thinking about how to attract talent, innovate companies, inspire creativity – and they want out-of-the-box ideas for their communities. We had some spirited debates during our discussions as to the benefits of entrepreneurship to their particular ecosystems. The most common misconception was that entrepreneurship is about embracing repeated failure. However, I would argue that at the Trust Center, we try to mentor and guide students so that they are not repeating the failure of others. Our measure of success is that the student learns the skills to start their own businesses and that they self-identify as entrepreneurs. This lets them take risks while they’re here – ahead of the VC stage.

When I started in business out of college, it was a different time. Companies like Honeywell, IBM, HP, etc. all had training programs that cross-trained new graduates. That experience is not as prevalent today, and startups are a great way to get hands-on experience across multiple disciplines. As my expertise moved from engineering to manufacturing to service to sales operations to logistics to senior leadership etc. there mitsealwere always a willing set of mentors who helped me at critical points – for this, I am very thankful. At MIT, we teach a Disciplined Entrepreneurship approach – an approach I have seen work in practice. We have over 60 courses that provide the MIT “mens et manus” approach of mind and hand. Like my apprentice programs years ago, MIT offers hands-on programming to help students understand what working in a new business venture is like and teaches skills of finance, legal, marketing, sales, etc. with industry experience in biotech, healthcare, energy, fin-tech, and other industries.

For many of the alumni, these programs did not exist when they were at MIT. However, in speaking with them, they are confident in the educational and hands-on experiences that are available now to MIT students. Several alums said they would love to go back and be a student now. (Wouldn’t we all!?) Although the world is a different place now than even five years ago, the Trust Center keeps abreast of these changes as evidenced by the success of our MIT delta v teams. Our students are the pulse of change in the world.

Supporting an institution like MIT – and centers such as the Martin Trust Center that provide entrepreneurial programming – creates a workforce that has cross-disciplinary experience.

Demand for delta v has grown, while our budget has not increased for the program. We need funds to support these deserving student teams. As our success becomes public, so does the demand for our product, and increased resources enable us to teach others to become entrepreneurs wherever they are located. We cannot do it without a community and the philanthropy that will plant the seeds, so our students can positively impact the world.

 

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How the MIT Ecosystem is Supporting Entrepreneurs

0044_8788 copyAnother MIT delta v Demo Day is in the books! Our 2018 cohort was the biggest yet, with 25 teams presenting, and for the first time, we had a program in New York City in addition to our Cambridge team.

With all our preparation for Demo Day and the excitement of the day itself, sometimes it’s tough to step back and look at the big picture – but, it’s important. In this case, the big picture is the MIT ecosystem for entrepreneurs, and how it works to support our startups.

As our Managing Director Bill Aulet said in his introductory presentation, the mission of MIT is that we DO things, and that’s what this is all about. We are driven to bring knowledge to bear on the world’s great challenges. Our entrepreneurship program at delta v is about trying to solve some of these great challenges – and we do it by creating an environment and an ecosystem where these entrepreneurs can thrive and flourish.

An Inspiring Environment for Diverse Ideas

Delta v is the most inspiring environment I can think of for an entrepreneur. There’s an energy here that propels each of our teams forward. For 90 days, the delta v teams eat, sleep, and breathe their companies. They are guided through a process that makes them really think through the realities of starting an actual business. It’s not just chasing a cool idea – the fundamentals and bedrock of the business must be in place, including a solid business plan, working collaboratively with a board of directors, and testing their concepts with customers. The mentors, Entrepreneurs-in-Residence, our board of directors and the customer community are all part of the ecosystem.

This year, I was really impressed by the diverse industries in which the students worked. We had students with business ideas in crypto-currency, social, agriculture, mental health, financial, construction. And despite these wildly different spaces, the students still managed to find common ground and problem solve together. Three big themes stood out this year:

  • Inclusion – such as financial and societal inclusion
  • Human isolation – people are more connected today, but there is a lack of real relationships
  • Machine learning & AI – technologies with strong MIT foundations

A Strong Entrepreneurial Community

At delta v, we realize that a startup is only as strong as its community. So, we really focused on building more support systems for our students. We brought back delta v alums, like our keynote Spyce, a 2015 delta v alum who just closed on a $21 million series A round. We did consistent one-on-one counseling with founders and hosted outside advisors and speakers to provide novel perspectives for our students. In addition, this area provides an unparalleled innovation ecosystem access. The MIT campus and Kendall Square area is the densest innovation cluster in the world, with its concentration of startups, high-tech companies, and venture capital firms. This enriches the lives of our student entrepreneurs and expands the ecosystem where our they can grow and learn.

Personal Development as Leaders

A lot of this summer was about personal development for our entrepreneurs. I never worry about these students when it comes to technology. But it takes intentional entrepreneurship education – through many different teaching methods and technologies – to help create leaders that can rise to the challenge of starting a business. That’s something we hope to continue to grow at delta v in the coming years. Because really, anyone can raise money for their startup. But it takes better leaders and teams to know how to use that money and tech knowledge more effectively to continue generating revenue and try to solve some of the world’s great challenges.

If you want to get the full experience (and have 3+ hours), watch the video of the entire Boston Demo Day 2018 program:

To learn a little about each of the teams and view the startup videos (about 5 minutes each).

Also, see what BostInno and the MIT Sloan Newsroom have to say about Demo Day 2018!

 

Find Your Voice, Own Your Narrative, and Help Your Mentor Help You

In today’s society, there is an awareness that diversity is important not only as a concept, but also for real bottom line improvements. While this is good news, there is still a long way to go. I recently had the privilege of joining a panel that discussed the successes and challenges facing women in terms of equal pay, gender parity/blind bias, and upward mobility.

“Press for Progress” was sponsored by The Boston Club and held at the offices of Ernst & Young. First, my thanks to our moderator, Tara Alex, an Insurance Partner at E&Y, and my fellow panelists: Linda Rossetti, social entrepreneur and board member; Agnes Bundy Scanlan, who is on multiple boards and an advisor at Treliant Risk Advisors; and Jane Steinmetz, the Managing Principal for E&Y’s Boston office.

The overall feedback from this panel is positive – there is more focus on improving gender parity today, and sponsorship is key to that improvement. When you have a sponsor, someone is advocating for you; they have your best interests in mind and can recommend you for important assignments. The other key takeaway is the importance of having multiple women and minorities in the candidate pool for new hires.

Gender Parity and Sponsorship

The panel provided actionable advice both for women trying to get ahead and for their mentors. It was clear from the panel’s experience, as well as the audience’s, that each individual’s journey is personal and gender parity mandates don’t work. Because each experience is different, the power is shifted to the employee to own their experience and make the most of it. Employees need to leave “breadcrumbs” along the way so that when opportunities arise, the managers making the decision know what you have accomplished. Whether it is seeking a board seat or a new career path, if no one knows what you want (and you have not networked to get the message out) then it will be difficult for the hiring folks to find you.

An interesting Harvard Business Review article by Stefanie K. Johnson, David R. Hekman, and Elsa T. Chan delves into the statistics around the number of diverse candidates presented and its impact on selection. Titled “If There’s Only One Woman in Your Candidate Pool, There’s Statistically No Chance She’ll Be Hired,” the article’s premise is that people are invested in maintaining the status quo. That means if two men and one woman are presented as equally qualified, employers tend to hire a male. The panel discussed making the candidate pool richer with more women and minority candidates, and how this could shift the odds.

The women on my panel have all played a sponsor role in their organizations. They talked about looking at a slate of candidates and finding opportunities to position them, so they are ready for the next opportunity. But this can only be done if the sponsor is aware of what you want and desire as a potential job candidate. This requires you as an employee to own your narrative, find your voice, identify what is of value to you, and link it to the organizational purpose.

Taking Risks

It is also clear that women often wait until they are fully qualified for a job before they apply for it, whereas men are more likely to take a risk and sell the vision of what they can/will do. IBM CEO Ginni Rometty states, “I learned to always take on things I’d never done before. Growth and comfort do not co-exist.”

With each risk you take, you build confidence. The first risk is the toughest, and if you’re successful, each subsequent risk is easier. Changing jobs is scary, but this lets others perceive you in a different light and provides momentum to your career. Even if you fail, you will realize what the issue was – wrong organizational fit, skills mismatch, more travel than you understood it to be, etc. – but by taking the risk you’ll be better prepared for when you make the next decision.

Upward Mobility

Pay parity and advancement were topics of particular interest to women who take an extended parenting leave and then return to the workforce. The panel’s advice was that you need to align yourself to market value, not your former salary. Do the work, find the data, and present your case. Today there is more transparency in salaries with sites like Glassdoor, so use this to your advantage. Remember, it is much costlier for your employer to lose you as an employee than to provide you a market-value salary. Also, step back and look at patterns. If you have seen other people’s careers go off track, this is where you must convey your own narrative to decision makers and voice your expectations about what you need to make it work.

Another point women should consider as they negotiate salary and benefits, is that silence is OK. In fact, it is often a powerful negotiation tool, so use it to your advantage. One final point is that you don’t have to do a job the way your predecessor did. Make it your own. If your family obligations don’t allow you to be out every night of the week, then figure out what does work for you and own it.

Further Diversity Research

I looked further at the research and the Harvard Business Review has a series of articles on the latest studies in diversity. One article by Evan Apfelbaum, titled “Why Your Diversity Program may be Helping Women but not Minorities (or Vice Versa),” looks at the problem of lumping women and minorities into one bucket. “The fact is that 40% of women make up all employees in a professional setting, whereas black women and men by contrast rarely comprise more than 5% of employees in these same settings.” These statistical differences affect how concerned people are with “sticking out” as representatives of their group. While the “value in difference” approach may energize groups, like white women, the very same message may, ironically, undermine groups who are represented in smaller numbers, like black women and men.

In the end, business is conducted by people and the way to enhance performance and decrease turnover is to provide all groups the same opportunity to succeed.

 

The delta v Culture: Six Entrepreneurial Essentials at MIT

delta-v-2017-On June 12, we’ll open the doors to this summer’s delta v cohort, beginning an intensive 3-month entrepreneurial “boot camp” for MIT student entrepreneurs. This post looks at the culture of delta v and how this environment helps to grow entrepreneurs.

The saying “culture eats strategy for breakfast” is attributed to management guru Peter Drucker and was made famous by Mark Fields, president at Ford Motor Company. It speaks to how vital culture is in an organizational setting. At MIT, Professor Bill Aulet has written an article that explains why, as an organization, we believe culture is essential for entrepreneurs.

For delta v, MIT’s capstone student venture accelerator, we create a culture of entrepreneurship that is all about risk-taking and the freedom to make mistakes. Although delta v operates out of a cool space with a startup feel, it’s about more than the free coffee and ramen noodles or the walls you can write on. The vibe of delta v is different because of the people inside it and the meaningful work they do. If you’re one of the fortunate student teams accepted into the summer-long “entrepreneurship boot camp,” you’ll be surrounded by smart people all working on new companies with big goals. During the summer, the teams will be working in small cohorts in similar fields and will also participate in being part of a greater cohort, where a true sense of teamwork and collaboration is established.

The staff at delta v know they are assisting students who are making a positive impact in the world. In this experimental culture, failure is expected because students are encouraged to take risks and stretch to their full potential. This is a safe zone to try new ideas and the disciplined entrepreneurship framework provides a basis and common language for the staff to work with students. The framework isn’t a hard and fast set of rules, but it’s more like a common operating system that guides all of the teams.

As part of the culture of delta v, we also bring in the outside community to meet and assess the student teams from an educational perspective – not to look for deal flow but to participate in the students’ learning experience. A key milestone for MIT delta v teams is meeting with their board of directors and gaining valuable input from these advisors. This year we are also starting a delta v cohort in New York City to expose students to a network that is relevant for their company, for example, fintech, real estate, fashion, media, the arts – but, again, with a common operating system. As students gain experiences throughout the summer, they also build trust and respect within the greater Boston and New York communities that will be important as they launch their companies.

Six elements of the delta v culture are shaped by our principles at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship:

  • MIT Standard of Excellence and Rigor – The delta v teams receive not only the highest quality education, but also the highest quality advising, and practical experiences as well.
  • Collaboration – By partnering with various departments and centers within MIT and the greater community these startups will be prepared to collaborate for the success of their businesses.
  • Diversity – Encouraging a wide variety of perspectives, people, and ways of doing things mean that new ideas and concepts are examined from many angles and the diverse contributions make each company stronger.
  • Experimentation – delta v is the place to “fail forward” and try everything in a supportive environment.
  • Honest Broker – Since MIT does not take a financial stake in the delta v startups, our focus is solely on nurturing and assisting the education of the entrepreneur.
  • Mens et Manus – MIT’s motto, “mind and hand,” fuses academic and practitioner perspectives for a well-rounded entrepreneur.

The way the Martin Trust Center shapes the culture within delta v will be reflected by each of the entrepreneurs and their ventures. Good or bad, all our past experiences come into play as we create something new. Sometimes we choose aspects of a culture we want to emulate. Other times, we actively realize that a certain way of doing things is something we want to avoid. Many of the delta v teams will go on to become successful entrepreneurs that help to solve some of the world’s toughest problems. (Read about some of them in the news here.)

We hope that each student and team carries forth the culture of delta v.

 

Why Consistent, Passionate Leadership Makes all the Difference

Netezza4_halo

I had lunch the other day with a friend and former colleague; he had been the CEO of a successful company that we worked together to build. As usual, we caught up and reminisced, but what struck me about our conversation was our discussion around leadership, and how much truly good leadership contributed to the company’s success, culture, and camaraderie.

He shared that as he visits companies that have been built by previous employees – and staffed by a lot of talent from his previous companies – and he is greeted with such warmth. He said folks tell him that being a part of the company he led was one of the best experiences of their lives. I agreed. We had a great team, a great product, and built a company of significant value that positively impacted customers’ businesses.

He chuckled at my recollection, said he kept emails from his staff telling him how badly things were going, how people disagreed with decisions that were being made, and that working with “so and so” was painful. In hindsight, that is true. So, is it the halo effect, where you remember only the positive and time fades the rest? Or, were we really accomplishing something as a team? I believe it is a bit of both.

Certainly, there were some low points – like when we blew a presentation, a product launch, hired the wrong people and took too long to recognize it, failed a customer, or failed to deliver as a team. We scaled fast but not fast enough, we forecasted sales but sold different models, we worked ridiculous hours. But, at the end of the day, we delivered it together. If we didn’t deliver on a customer commitment, it was “all hands on deck” to get that issue corrected, and that was a core value of the company. However, we also did a lot right. We focused on organic growth, so there was an opportunity to grow and learn. We took risks and learned from what worked and what didn’t.

I also talked to a former colleague who was just 21 when she joined the company. She remembers feeling personally responsible for making customers happy and making the company successful … and, everyone felt that way. If we weren’t passionate about the company, we wouldn’t care so much, and we wouldn’t have told the CEO all the things that we thought were wrong.

As a leader, how do you get employees to think like this? Part of it is to be transparent, celebrate successes, and think ahead to what is next. Communication of both successes and failures is essential, as is laying down the challenge to do better. I remember every day, as I left my office, I saw a sign that read, “Did I move the company forward today?” It was simple, yet meaningful. It was personal for me, and it was personal for others.

We had a mantra of: Performance; Simplicity; and to Be easy to do business with. It was a simple, yet consistent message of expectations – the expectations of our customers (who called us on it), and the expectations of our employees who focused on it internally and externally by communicating in an authentic way (rather than with charts or PowerPoint). This shared set of beliefs and living the culture every day became the guide rails we used to make decisions.

Leadership in building an enterprise is fraught with strife. How you show up everyday matters. It matters how you lead by example through good times and bad, the signals you send to the employees, prospective employees, customers, and investors. It matters what you say, and how you say it. People see how you carry yourself, and how you treat others. The CEO job is lonely, and all paths lead there, so it is vital that CEOs have their support network to provide perspective.

Maybe I have been lucky (or wise) in choosing the companies I have worked with, but I have experienced terrific leadership at a variety of companies, including employees that challenge those leaders to be better, and customers who depend on that. So, at the end of the day, I am pleased to hear that my former CEO is treated well – as he should be. There might be a bit halo effect as we reminisce, but in my experience, creating something special for others creates its own halo.

 

The Time is Now for Women to Step Up, Speak Out, and Take Control

On this year’s International Women’s Day, I’d like to reflect on how we can encourage women to speak up, be heard, and support each other. The #metoo movement has brought to light countless examples of abuse, mistreatment, and harassment, but if there is one positive glimmer out of all that is being shared, it’s a sense of solidarity and empowerment.

I believe that entrepreneurship can be a path to channeling that energy and creating positive outcomes. The time is now to step up and speak out. The time is now to take control of your own destiny. Stop saying “I’m sorry” and start saying “I’m ready to make a difference.”

I believe that sometimes making a difference is being your own boss. In my role as Director of MIT’s educational accelerator program, delta v, I work every day with both female and male student entrepreneurs. Some of these students have ideas that may change the world someday, but even more important is their sense of pride and accomplishment when they can make decisions that shape their own direction and have a positive impact on other people.

Maybe being an entrepreneur is not for everyone. But, if and when you are in a position to define your own path, you have turned the tables and now have control. You can help not only yourself but others.

Female Entrepreneurs make a Difference

This infographic from Entrepreneur on female entrepreneurship shows that women are founding companies at historic rates with more than 9 million women-owned businesses in the U.S. today. These businesses will provide over 5 million jobs this year. Interestingly, businesses with a woman on the executive team are also more likely to have significantly higher valuations (64% higher) at Series A. These statistics demonstrate that women are creating new models of leadership, and that is hopefully changing the balance of power.

How to Get Started

Now is the time to be an entrepreneur, yet the hardest thing about entrepreneurship is getting started. Newton’s first law states an object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an external force – and this is true for entrepreneurship as well. So, you need to give yourself a push. For inspiration, here are some stories of female entrepreneurs gaining ground at MIT.

Find the focus that is right for you. Entrepreneurship for small and medium enterprises (i.e. opening your own business in an established industry, such as a florist, hair salon, or consultant) is different from innovation-driven entrepreneurship (i.e. the next “big idea”, inventing something new) but they both let you be your own boss.

What are you curious about? What do you dream of doing? How would you get started? Now is the best time. There are many educational resources (online, classes, workshops etc.), and there are a lot of folks who are willing to be mentors. Plus, check out co-working spaces that are great for startups. In the Boston area, we have the CIC in CambridgeVenture CaféWeWork, etc. that also have speakers and educational resources in all areas of building a business.

Resources for Entrepreneurs

On any given day in Boston, there are events that budding entrepreneurs can attend – many are free, or some charge a small fee. Find the one that fits you. The City of Boston just held a series of events for women, Linda Henry runs HUBweek, there are Mass Challenge programs around the world. These all help expose those interested in entrepreneurship to various options. Here are a number of resources and organizations in the Boston and Cambridge area. Search online to find others in your area. Starting a Business (City of Boston)

The activism among several organizations has opened a lot of eyes, and hopefully recognition. Where women were once dismissed, that there are signs that voices should be heard – from women on boards to women funding enterprises. There is positive momentum, and you can make a difference. The time is now. Give yourself that push!

Originally published here in BostInno.

Reflections on delta v 2017

mit_delta_v

It’s hard to believe I’ve recently finished my third year of guiding MIT startup teams through our delta v student venture accelerator. The 2017 cohort was another fantastic group of entrepreneurs and startups, and I look forward to seeing the places they will go as they develop their businesses and grow as individuals.

One useful exercise that we’ve done each year is to look critically at the delta v program at the end of each session and assess what went well and what could be improved. I believe this has helped us refine and grow our program, and I’d like to share some of our top findings:

Positive changes

We had great feedback from this year’s cohort, and did a comparison between 2016 and 2017. Here are some stats, and our take on what we’re doing well:

  • This was our largest cohort to date. We supported 21 teams and 65 entrepreneurs.
  • The average team size decreased from 5 members in 2016 to 3 members in 2017 – we feel that a smaller team size means more involvement in the process for each student.
  • The percentage of female entrepreneurs increased from 26% in 2016 to 45% in 2017 – we are making good strides toward gender parity and neutralizing gender bias, both important goals.
  • For the first time we expanded the delta v program with a Startup Studio in New York City supporting seven additional teams
  • The students were especially pleased with the founders’ dinner speakers and the interaction and support from our Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIRs).
  • They also generally liked the amount of programming included this year.
  • We implemented longer and more structured board meetings in response to requests made after the 2016 program; this was well received.
  • The teams closed more business during delta v than ever before, reaching more than $100K in revenue over the summer months.
  • Based on a survey of the students, the average net promoter score for the 2017 cohort was 93.6.
  • 100% of students surveyed are willing to be a reference for the program going forward.

We also reached out to our delta v board members for their feedback. Here’s what two of our board members had to say:

“Serving on a delta v board reminds me of the interdependency of the roles of ‘change agents’ and ‘game changers,’ irrespective of age or accomplishment. Board and delta v members, alike, seamlessly assume these roles while educating and constructively guiding each other to the launch milestone.”

  • Kristine Van Amsterdam, delta v board member

“As board members, we have the thrill and privilege of helping young entrepreneurs take those critical first steps to turn their ideas into real-life and life changing entities. Many of the ideas born here will become companies that impact the world.”

  • Janet Wu, delta v board member

 We’re thrilled that 100% of the 2017 board members are interested in participating in the program again next year.

Of course, there is always room for improvement. Here’s what we’re working on:

  • Our (new!) physical space is getting cramped with 21 teams.
  • Next year, we want to work more with the students to prepare them for meetings with the investment community.
  • The students gave us specific requests for new programming in areas from budgeting to negotiation to team development.
  • There was also a request for even more structure with the board, in terms of setting the agenda to focus on upcoming milestones.

We take feedback from our students and board members seriously and will be evolving the program for 2018. We wish our 2017 cohort much success! If you are interested in more detail on delta v, including seeing what some of our past alumni are doing, check out this year’s Martin Trust Center Annual Report.